The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period. (or, a word on being our own heroes)

August 14, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Americana: Sunrise, Middle of Somewhere, IowaAmericana: Sunrise, Middle of Somewhere, IowaShot from the window of the California Zephyr on a chilly December morning.

 

“The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period."

 

These were the brazen words of George H.W. Bush (Sr.), then-leader of the free world, at 1992's Rio Earth Summit. Since that time, our politicians and their lobbyists have peddled the overt fabrication that the US is a global leader in the fight against climate change. The rest of the world, on the other hand, has drawn its own conclusions about us. As a historical rule, the US has made monumental efforts to block policies that would limit emissions and curb corporate profits, and in doing so, our leadership has robbed US Americans of opportunities to fundamentally examine and reconsider our way of life. Meanwhile, one-quarter of anthropogenically-emitted carbon in our fragile atmosphere can be attributed to—you guessed it—US Americans.

 

So the world perceives us as not giving a shit.

 

I'm sorry. It's hurtful and off-putting, but it's true. But here's my effort to cast us in a kinder light: maybe "we don't give a shit" because we don't know better, because we simply don't have access to the reference points that would help us really and finally get it—that is, how wasteful our quotidian lives are. Maybe we're the proverbial rodeo bull in the porcelain shop. 

 

One of the reasons I loved living in the UK is because society there is structured to yield smaller carbon footprints among its civic participants (compared to the average US-dweller, at least). Living smaller is literally the baseline. Using your own feet or a bicycle as a regular mode of transportation, even during winter months, is normal. Houses are smaller, thereby requiring less energy to heat in the winter or cool in the summer. People dry their clothes on lines. Macaco and I had organic, locally-grown vegetables delivered to our house twice monthly (on bicycle, no less!) for a gobsmackingly affordable price. Fish sold for consumption are not treated with carbon monoxide to retain color. The candy is not treated with red 40 and yellow 5. I could go on and on, but I'll just add this bit here:

 

In the UK, radical environmental activism is unapologetically mainstream (Google, for example, Extinction Rebellion). It may irk you to think of activists shutting down roads and disrupting worker commutes, but these measures begin to make sense when you understand that (1) destroying our planet for the sake of profit is itself radical and (2) there will be a devastating cost if we fail to turn the tide. The policies and practices that prioritize profit and sacrifice ecological well-being are so radical that we consumers regularly turn a blind eye to killing humans and nonhumans alike so that we can have ... stuff. (The only mainstream movement I can think of in the US that demonstrates the unapologetic fervor and commitment needed to undo institutional violence is Black Lives Matter.)

 

Alpine Meadow, En Route to Kuelap Fortress, PeruAlpine Meadow, En Route to Kuelap Fortress, PeruThe footpath to Kuelap has stunning, panoramic views of the Andes. This view is facing west, but if you face east, you can see the peripheral arms of the Amazon.

Built by the Chachapoyas ("the people of the clouds"), fierce contemporaries of the Incas, the fortress of Kuelap was all about the views. Whether battling dominating Incas or head-shrinking Amazonians, the Chachapoyas situated their most important city of 3,000 souls in the center of a 360 degree view.

Several days ago, when the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Hawaii's junior senator Brian Schatz tweeted the following: "...we have passed ... the biggest climate action in American history." For reference (and to better understand Schatz's self-congratulatory tweet), I urge you to investigate the other climate bills that Senate has passed (...crickets?...) to see why Schatz and others can legitimately refer to the IRA as the "biggest" and "most ambitious" of them all. If you don't feel like looking it up, that's okay, but let me just paint a picture. Last night, around 2 a.m., I woke up to pee. Quite obviously, that required walking to the toilet and then walking back to bed. Later today, I'm going hiking. Yet right now I've been awake a few hours and, even without hiking, I've logged more steps on my metaphorical Fit Bit than those that were required to use the loo last night. So if I wanted to, I could tweet something like the following: "In the last 12 hours, I've walked my biggest and most ambitious steps during the last two hours!" This is true even though my tweet would be far more impressive (and genuine) if I tweeted the glory of my step count AFTER hiking, which is objectively more ambitious than the typical plodding around that one does on Sunday mornings. Anything looks ambitious when it's compared to sleeping. Even plodding around.

 

Here's the simple truth. The Inflation Reduction Act is not enough. It is not enough because it aims to continue supplying the resources required to uphold our existing way of life, the same way of life that George Sr. described as "not up for negotiations. Period." It peddles to mindless consumerism and extends the delusion that we US Americans don't need to make sacrifices, thank you very much.

 

But—and let me pause for dramatic effect here—WE DO.

 

We—and I mean US Americans—have to make choices that we won't want to make because we will be inconvenienced. We have to live smaller lives. Living smaller lives is the only real way that we, with our own power, can mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. THEY AREN'T GOING TO PICK UP THE MORAL MANTLE TO SAVE OUR PLANET. We can blame oligarchical industries and corporate greed all we want (and yes, they should be held accountable). But we are lying to ourselves if we do not admit that the sickening brand of corporate greed that we see today is predicated largely on one thing: consumer demand. And that is us. 

 

We hold the power. We always have.

 

All the carrots dangled in the Inflation Reduction Act that are meant to usher us toward green energy solutions (which, by the way, opens the Arctic and the Gulf to drilling and provides tax breaks to Shell and BP) will not make a dent in the climate crisis if we are not willing to lead smaller lives. Green energy solutions rely on further extraction of non-renewable resources, and green energy infrastructure is finite so you are forced to rebuild it again and again and again.

 

Why? To meet our demands.

 

The US way of life IS up for debate. It has to be, simply because, as it currently stands, it is utterly incompatible with fighting climate change. We have to take our power back. We have to take our Earth back. We are damning our children and numerous species if we do not.

 

Rudraksha Grove, KauaiRudraksha Grove, KauaiAt the Hindu monastery on Kauai.

Flower on a Leaf in Water, O`ahuFlower on a Leaf in Water, O`ahu

MuggingMuggingPiedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon CA horses, "black and white", animal, love, affection, "monica szczupider"Two Horses, Hawai`i Island "white faced", "white fronted", capuchin, "central america", nicaragua, monkey, "monica szczupider"Pancho, NicaraguaA white-faced capuchin. Pancho was encountered in Mirafor, Nicaragua. He was kept, surprisingly, at an ecologically themed finca (ranch). After discussions with Pancho's "owners," they said they would take him to a rescue center so he could be integrated with other monkeys. Many, many monkeys are kept in similar conditions in Central America. Their mothers are killed, and the orphans are then sold into the pet trade.

chimpanzee, wildlife, primates, apes, endangered, portrait, forest, africa, conservation, "monica szczupider"Arvid, CameroonChimpanzee, pan troglodytes vellerosus, rescued from the bushmeat trade and living at a rescue center near Belabo, Cameroon. Also known as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, p.t. vellerosus is the most threatened and least distributed of all chimpanzees.

 

 


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